Discovering the Val di Merse and its beauties

If you are looking for a genuine and not overworked Tuscany, still linked to old traditions and with a dreamlike landscape, the Val di Merse could be your choice. It is located in the southwestern part of the Province of Siena, wedged between the foothills of the Metalliferous Hills along the course of the river Merse and includes the municipalities of Chiusdino, Monticiano, Murlo, Radicondoli and Sovicille. Important since the Middle Ages for its rich territory filled with waterways and mills, the Val di Merse is almost entirely a nature reserve, best known for its impressive Abbey of San Galgano but also full of beautiful villages, ancient forts, natural hot springs and many other places full of charm and surrounded by nature. Val di Merse collects Etruscan, Roman and Lombard remains. The landscape is varied: mid and high hills, mountainous areas, cultivated fields, meadows and woods. There are also gentle views; urban areas modified by human presence, and wilderness areas that seem almost unexplored. Here is a list of places to discover in the Val di Merse between forests, churches, thermal baths, forts and abbeys, leaving from Siena.
San Galgano Abbey in Val di Merse [Photo Credits: Aurelio Candido]
San Galgano Abbey in Val di Merse [Photo Credits: Aurelio Candido]

Sovicille

At about 10 kilometres west from Siena, the first place we reach is Sovicille, a hamlet built around 1000 A.D. Sovicille, rooted in the Etruscan and Roman history, has a great artistic and historical heritage, with its Romanesque churches and abbeys. The territory is located in the Montagnola Senese, on the ancient Via Maremmana linking the Sienese hinterland with the Tyrrhenian coast, and it is characterized by its almost mountainous landscape. The forest is the most present and imposing element in the area of Sovicille, giving the landscape a majestic atmosphere. The historical and artistic heritage of the area is of great importance and boasts a widespread presence of Romanesque churches and abbeys like San Giusto a Balli, Pernina, Molli, Ponte allo Spino, Torri with the remarkable multi-colored cloister of the abbey of Santa Mustiola, and San Lorenzo Sovicille. Other points of interest include the Ponte della Pia (near Rosia) and Villa Cetinale (built in the second half of the 1600 by a pupil of Bernini); if you like archaeology and outdoorsy museums, there is the Necropolis of Malignano and the Ethnographic Museum of the Wood and Sharecropping (Museo Etnografico del Bosco e della Mezzadria). For more information contact: museo@comune.sovicille.si.it
Ponte allo Spino, Sovicille [Photo Credits: Antonio Cinotti]
Ponte allo Spino, Sovicille [Photo Credits: Antonio Cinotti]

Radicondoli

25 kilometres southwest of Siena, in the metal-bearing hills that overshadow the Val di Cecina, lies Radicondoli, a walled town perched on a hilltop with panoramic views of the Tuscan countryside. There was human presence here even in Etruscan-Roman times, but the subsequent medieval installation erased it completely. The old town of Radicondoli is developed by following the natural course of the hill where it was built, along the main street you can see many buildings erected between the second half of the fourteenth century and the end of the sixteenth century. Just outside the city walls - also of particular interest - you can visit the Franciscan Monastery of the Observance today deconsecrated and home to an important school of music. In this town you can admire the Elci castle, the convent of St. Francis, the parish of St. Simon, the castle of Radicondoli, the castle of Belforte and “the Energies of the Territory” museum. The area of Radicondoli is characterized by high hills, with an agricultural landscape that leads to a more dense, almost wild, forest. An important feature of this area is the presence of geothermal steam, which is used for the creation of clean energy.
Radicondoli [Photo Credits: Benjamin Rabe]
Radicondoli [Photo Credits: Benjamin Rabe]

Chiusdino

Chiusdino is a medieval village placed on the top of one of the Metalliferous Hills. Its history begins with the Lombard invasion, although traces of the presence of the Etruscans were identified. Its area includes some historical places of great beauty as well as of great cultural significance, which today have become major tourist attractions. The town is near the Via Francigena, the pilgrims’ route that passes through the region. Thousands of pilgrims from northern Europe used to travel along this ancient route on their way to Rome. Chiusdino took advantage of the increased trade these pilgrims brought to the area. In the village you can find the church of San Martino called “outside the walls”, the Provost of St. Michael, next to the birthplace of San Galgano, and the church of the Compagnia di San Galgano with an interesting bas-relief (1466) depicting San Galgano sticking the sword in the stone. In the municipality of Chiusdino you can also find the hermitage of Montesiepi. Nearby attractions include the village-castle of Frosini, the ancient residence of the Gherardesca Counts (1004), Luriano, Castelletto and the Montalcinello castle. Anyway, Chiusdino is best known for the San Galgano Abbey and the sword in the stone, about 9 km from the village. Legend has it that the knight of fortune Galgano Guidotti came on the hill of Montesiepi and had a vision of the Creator. Failing to get the wood to build a cross, he plunged his sword into a rock that took the form of the Christian symbol; transformed the mantle in his tunic and heard a voice asking him to stop at that place until the end of his days. He converted and lived as a hermit in Montesiepi until 1181, the year of his death. Today, the sword of San Galgano is kept within the Rotonda di Montesiepi; while 850 meters below sit the ruins of the beautiful Cistercian abbey of San Galgano.
Chiusdino [Photo Credits: Thomas Quine]
Chiusdino [Photo Credits: Thomas Quine]

Monticiano

Monticiano is a very ancient village that lies on the edge of the Tocchi State Reserve and is surrounded by the Nature Reserves of Alto Merse and Farma. Nature is the strength of this area, which includes lush forests where you can walk or ride on horseback surrounded by an extremely rich array of flora and fauna. In the village, don’t miss the Gothic Church of St. Augustine, one of the oldest monasteries of the Augustinian order, housing beautiful frescoes. See also the village of San Lorenzo a Merse with the ancient castle and the Romanesque church; the small hamlet of Castello di Tocchi; the remains of the fortifications of Castellaccio, Monte Quoio and Renna. Within the activities on offer in the area don’t miss Petriolo, bordering the town of Civitella Paganico, where you can take advantage of the hot springs that flow along the river Farma.
Monticiano [Photo Credits: mercury666]
Monticiano [Photo Credits: mercury666]

Murlo

The last stop of our itinerary in the Val di Merse is in Murlo, castle-village set on a hill at 300 meters and that dominates the thick forests of the Crevole Valley, right on the border with the Val d'Arbia and the Crete Senesi. As shown by the archaeological finds from the necropolis of Poggio Aguzzo and Poggio Civitate, Murlo owes its origins to the Etruscans, whose testimonies can be seen at the Archaeological Museum housed in the Episcopal Palace. There are many monuments and historical buildings to visit in the municipality of Murlo, such as Murlo Castle, with its typical fortified urban structure dating to the twelfth century, San Fortunato Church and the Palazzone. The landscape is dotted with the ruins of churches and castles, as well as ancient quarries and mines. The rock of this area of Siena was extracted for the construction of monuments such as the Siena’s Duomo.
Murlo [Photo Credits: Phillip Capper]
Murlo [Photo Credits: Phillip Capper]
Have you visited this area of Tuscany? Do you have suggestions to add?
&
More itineraries
Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. In rutrum dui eu volutpat vestibulum.